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Council to Discuss Santa Monica Airport's Future  


By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

May 8, 2012 -- When the City Council takes up the future of one of the nation's oldest municipal airports Tuesday night, the meeting will cap what Santa Monica officials are calling one of the most extensive community discussions ever conducted by the City.

After months of small meetings with more than 300 community members and stakeholders during Phase II of the process, the council will listen to staff's findings and recommend how best to continue into Phase III.

“As anticipated, the participants in the Phase II discussion groups were sharply divided in their viewpoints about the Airport’s future,” staff wrote in its report to the council.

“A lot of the folks wanted it closed,” said Martin Pastucha, the City's director of Public Works.

But trying to close the 67-year-old airport – an option that is still on the table – would be “a long, drawn-out process” that “may not have the desired impact,” Pastucha said

Instead, he said that the point of Phase II was to gauge what community members wanted between the two extremes of closing the airport or doing nothing to the airport at all. Phase II, he said, revealed that the latter wasn't an option.

Residents' complaints, staff said, fell into several major categories -- health concerns, noise and air pollution, safety risks posed by flight training, “a perceived growth of airport operations,” and a “sense of disenfranchisement” as a result of a lack of local control.

“One of the strong things to come out of the discussion,” said Assistant Director of Public Works Susan Cline, “was how can we make the airport more green.”

What staff took away from the Phase II discussions, Cline said, is that the City needs to look into making Santa Monica airport a more community-friendly operation.

Part of that goal can be achieved by making sure that Santa Monica airport is on the cutting-edge of sustainable aviation technology, including electric planes and other innovations that reduce noise and air pollution, Cline said.

Although the City owns the airport, many of the operations are controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration, which “curtails the City's choices,” the report says.

“The FAA is listening,” said Pastucha. “They understand what the key issues are.”

The Federal agency is likely to fight against closure of the airport, Pastucha said. Still, it's possible that officials will be more flexible when it comes to issues such as air and noise pollution and safety concerns.

At Tuesday's meeting, the council will hear from staff about how the City plans to move forward to address residents' concerns about the airport and steps to make the airport a better neighbor.

Phase III will primarily focus on conducting further studies that address some of what residents see as major problems, which include looking into design improvements, identifying best practices at other airports and reducing flight school operations.

At Tuesday's meeting, neighboring residents are expected to call for shutting down the airport.

In a letter to the council last October, Friends of Sunset Park (FOSP) wrote that “the 'visioning process' has been tainted… from its inception,” because “City staff is reluctant to pursue airport closure as an option.”

One of the major obstacles to closure is a 1984 agreement between Santa Monica and the FAA after the City unsuccessfully sued for closure.

That agreement, which the City says ends in 2015, led to cutbacks in take-offs and landings and made some land off limits to aviation uses.

But the FAA argues that the City is still beholden to the agreement until 2023.


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